A better word than courage?

While I was thinking through my idealistic first novel about how telepathy could bring about empathy, compassion and peace on earth, I was already formulating a far different story about the times and circumstances when understanding a point of view is incomprehensible, and when even the most vulnerable need to find the strength to stand up and fight.

I was moving my emotions into the coolers colors that, to me, denoted the “but what about” response to all the good cheer of peace and joy and hope that my first three books were encompassing. In order to write about the one, I had to write about the other.

The word I wanted to describe the theme of my fourth novel was somewhere in between desperation and bravery. It was a word that would call to mind

the children and elders in a village grabbing kitchen knives and pitchforks and fighting in their own front yards with their hearts and souls to preserve what was decent and good in the face of indisputable evil, and, against all odds, triumphing.

I called it courage, but that only scratches the surface of what I was trying to convey. Is there a word for this situation? If not, we need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, and A better word than hope? )

Top Requirement for a Superhero

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, for some odd reason I’ve never been much of a fan of Wonder Woman.

It could have been the tiara, way back when, or the silly skirted costume. This original heroine was before my time, but her image lingered, and it made her appear to me like a secretary out of the 40’s hustling to get her really angry boss a cup of coffee.

More likely it was the goofy boots and lasso I saw as a young girl. This modernized Wonder Woman had a faintly Texas air about her, and I wasn’t big on cowboy stories. Was I judging her by her appearance? Sadly, yes. I didn’t know much else about her, though, because although I read comics and watched superheroes on TV,  somehow her stories were never there. Her image was all I had.

Then I became a teen-aged feminist, and Wonder Woman became a sex object. Well, not totally I’m sure, but her outward appearance took a sharp turn, so once again I wasn’t interested in her. I preferred my heroes not to look like that they were prepared to do a lap dance in some sort of kinky bondage strip club.

Finally, I outgrew superheros for a long while, as I tended to the challenges of life in my own real world. It was only when I picked up my laptop and started to write books that I discovered how much I had missed heroes with superpowers.

Didn’t give Wonder Woman much thought though, until I caught an interview with the director of the upcoming movie. Really? Someone is making a movie about Wonder Woman?

It sounded interesting, and I went. And I loved it. Not because she was a woman, though that was nice. Not because she was strong and heroic, which of course she was. And not because the whole rest of the movie was basically done with taste and class, though I thought it was, too.

I loved it because she had what I need to see in every hero I appreciate. She had heart. Compassion. Kindness. Ethics. Morals. A desire to make the world better. All those things that all the guy heroes I liked had all along, and maybe she had it too but if all you get is an image and an occasional bit in a fight scene, then there is no way to show that heart is there.

I walked away loving her concept of “it’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe.” That’s a great way to run an army, a country, or a world. In fact, I like that idea so much that all my other blog posts this month will be about letting beliefs shape actions.

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, my favorite hero of them all is now Wonder Woman.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Believe, It’s About What You Believe, I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

 

 

The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

Backing Down, Making Nice, and Saying Goodbye

I’ve been in something of a daze since November 9, the morning after the election. Words are my medium, and yet for all of my fear and frustration, I felt mute once the results were in, silenced by the forces of “we all need to pull together now and accept what has happened.”

I tried to be in this place, I swear I did, but after a week or two of hearing the improbable words “President-elect Trump” I wasn’t even close to being there. So, it was something of a relief to me to be included in on the following email from one old friend of mine to another. My friend said:

I recall you never warmed to Hillary, but I appreciate that you overcame your misgivings to vote for her. The likability debate always perplexed me, particularly from other women. We’re not electing prom queen here, or favorite mom or grandmother. There’s been a 30-plus year drumbeat from her Republican detractors about what a conniving b—– she is. A lot of it is raging sexism and just general Clinton hating. News flash: Things were pretty good when Bill Clinton was president, but let’s bash Hillary for her pantsuits and not being warm and fuzzy enough. During the election, I’ve taken these attacks on Hillary very personally. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, and now ageism, in my life. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and neither does Hillary, a quality that is seldom appreciated in women but OK for men.  And when Hillary takes the knocks, I feel them.

I do know plenty of Trump supporters and the fact that they sincerely believe they made the right choice only scares me for this country.

Really? You thought the narcissistic cretin was a better choice than Hillary, I would say to them? The guy who penned in the media and egged on his sycophants to jeer them? Are you familiar with the First Amendment?

You think it’s OK to diss a Gold Star family? To mock a disabled person? To build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it? To challenge our president’s birth certificate? To have an inner circle of racists and con men who spread utter lies in their fake news outlets? To barge into a dressing room with naked young women who work for you? To brag about grabbing women by their pussies? To insist that women who aren’t beautiful (in your opinion) be gotten rid of at your clubs? To build your empire by cheating the little guy? To brag about not paying your taxes? To refuse to release your tax returns? To threaten our allies? To suck up to Putin?

And so on.

This is not a normal Republican, with a platform that I might disagree with but could understand on some level. Trump’s platform was mostly fear of the other, pent-up racism against Obama and general paranoia. During the debates, he dodged intelligent discourse in favor of “such a nasty woman” and “crooked Hillary.”
I don’t need to listen to Trump supporters, or respect them, either. Many of them DO seem ignorant. How could you listen to the debates and not come to a basic conclusion about who was the superior candidate? Wait, you didn’t listen to the debates! You didn’t need to! Anyone would be better than Hillary!

I’m not interested in a Trump supporter’s convoluted explanation of why they aren’t a racist, homophobic, and so on. If they voted for Trump, they were saying that all of the unforgivable things he said and did, and will continue to do and say, were preferable to voting for one of the most qualified candidates we’ve had.

As we move forward, I’m proud to be with the people who won’t normalize Trump’s behavior. With a Congress that is stacked in his favor, it won’t be easy.

These days, my theme song is, “I won’t back down.”

Yeah. Exactly what she said. And just in case you don’t remember the Tom Petty classic, here is a memory refresher for you to enjoy.

It’s been almost two weeks now since I received that email, and I keep looking for signs of hope that the governing of these wonderful United States is not going to be reduced to a reality TV show, wherein contestants are egged on and judged in one man’s twitter account. I’m not seeing a lot of hope.

What I am seeing are signs that there are people from all walks of life who share my concerns: people with whom I might have guessed that I had little in common. My sports loving husband had me listen to an interview with the San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and at the end I stood up and cheered. From the evangelical Christian point of view came an article written by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City that reminded me of the compassion and love embedded in true Christian faith. Meanwhile trans woman, atheist and civil rights activist Danielle Muscato tore into The Donald on twitter and her words could not have reflected my own thoughts better. Either. What these three people have in common in my opinion is that they are compassionate and aware humans.

So, yeah, instead of being able to find encouragement in The Donald’s excellent cabinet picks and his swivel to embrace the importance of the job to which he has been elected, I am having to take comfort in the words of those who are as appalled as I am. As for the folks who thought any change was good change, well, I am not ready to make nice.

In fact, that wonderful tune from the Dixie Chicks is probably my theme song right now. Remember that this song was written in response to the outrage fans expressed when the Dixie Chicks criticized George Bush for invading Iraq. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, view it through the eyes of 2016, a time when evading Iraq looks incredibly stupid and yet George Bush doesn’t look half as inept as he once did.

There is one more song running through my head these days. I’m updating the music page for this blog, and I’ve gotten to the last song referred to in the book c3, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” recorded by Patty Loveless in 1993.

It’s true that my least favorite thing about country music has always been its tendency to be overly sentimental. So when “How Can I Help You Say Good-bye” was suggested to me for c3 by my country music consultant, I winced. Then I played it through a few times just to try the idea on. Yes, it made me cry, but behind those words designed to easily coax out tears, I heard a wisdom about accepting the pain in life. The more I played the song, the more the underlying message spoke to me, until soon it made it’s way into the end of my book and onto the short list of country songs I do like.

Today I’m thinking that there is message in there for me. We say goodbye to all sorts of things in life; childhood friends and those we love and ideas that matter to us. Having a woman president meant a lot to me, perhaps more than I realized before the election. For all my righteous frustration with the childishness of the incoming administration, I need to let go of the idea that I am going to see a woman president anytime soon, at least in the next four years. I’m particularly fond of this simple version of the song performed live on television by Patty Loveless.

Accept and move on. That doesn’t mean backing down on my principles.  It does not mean making nice with the people who put us into this mess. In fact, hanging on to what I believe and refusing to look the other way regarding hateful behavior is going to help me get out of this funk. I’m determined to find a way to say goodbye to a world that is not going to be, and then to work my hardest to see that four years from now I’m singing a very different kind of song.

We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much

img_3163I’ve started working out at a gym (again) and this time around I’m facing a challenge I haven’t seen before, and it involves breast cancer. No, I don’t have it and let me go on record as being against cancer of all types and firmly in favor of a disease free life for everyone. However ….

Someone in the gym has decided to put cute little pink sticky notes with hand-written statistics about breast cancer at eye level on the machines. I suppose if these had been in place for a week or so I might have ignored them, but it’s been almost a month now and I’m getting tired of averting my eyes. img_3161Nothing written on a sticky note is going to change my health care practices. However, I have emotional attachments to women who have died from this awful disease and to others who have bravely fought a battle that they are losing. These notes put me in a funk every time I see them. I’m fine with educating people. I’m not fine with badgering them.

trump-assult-scandalEnter sexual assault. Most women I know have experienced it in some mild form, including me, and too many of those I love have had experiences that were disturbing enough to continue to haunt and challenge them. I wish healing for them, and safety for all women. I recognize that to ignore the problem is not to solve it. I welcome honest dialog and a world striving to be better. However ….

It’s hard for these brave souls to move on, or to even have a good day, when almost every newscast addresses the topic, and half of the available entertainment feels compelled to have a scene, episode or back story about the same. When is comes to the news, a lot of this is tied to the presidential election and the way that events are unfolding. We all can’t wait for the election to be over, and for me this is just one more reason.

27-15As far as the entertainment industry goes, if I want to be positive then I think that they are striving to be relevant and, at their best, helpful. After all, I wrote a book about human trafficking with the best of intentions. When I am in a less charitable mood, I am sure that some others are only capitalizing on what they think will sell, and I understand with some sorrow how I could be accused of the same.

So I get to write a book about human trafficking but you don’t? Who decides when enough about a subject is enough, or whether the handling of a difficult topic is sensitive or exploitative?

I can’t answer that question. I do know that I never want to see ugly topics like disease and assault (and poverty, racism, domestic violence, homophobia, child neglect, human trafficking, war, and gun violence) swept under a giant collective carpet. Awareness can lead to solutions. But I also think it is fair to consider how toxic the atmosphere can become once we are fixated on a difficult subject, especially for those struggling to recover from emotional wounds that get strained a little every time the subject arises.

There are no easy answers here; just the age old need to step back from what we are doing every once in awhile, and to look honestly at our own motives and to consider the feelings of all others.

I do know that when difficult topics are handled with warmth, compassion and even a little humor, it helps. That can be a hard thing to do, and successful examples are rare.  This video, put out by the Thames Valley Police about a year ago relating the issue of consenting sex to having a cup of tea, handles a difficult subject as well as anything I have ever seen.

 

(For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be Alright,  Our brand is crisis?, and Is it over yet?)

It’s never too late till it is

Every once in awhile I know exactly what my husband means and those rare moments of perfect communication are gold. Such was the case with his “it’s never too late till it is.” Because it isn’t. You follow me?

27-Courage-27I still have the short-lived vantage point of watching those both a generation older and younger than me make decisions, and am always sad to hear someone decide that it’s too late for something they want. Education, relationships, children, adventures, the challenges of climbing a mountain or starting a business. My wise partner is right. Time can make some things more difficult, even much more difficult, but only we decide they are impossible. Until of course they are, at that moment when all of our chances are gone and we’ve done whatever it is we are going to do in this life. Nothing is impossible until then, and instead of finding the thought morbid, I find it oddly uplifting.

Of course, this bit of wisdom is unlikely to make it onto t-shirts anytime soon. Our culture is poorly suited to thinking about our own death, at least for more than a fleeting and uncomfortable second or two. That is why I was surprised when I continued with my task of updating the page on this blog about the music referred to in c3. Near the end of the book, my eighty-something telepath Maurice picks a song to relax him as he tries to use his telepathy to accomplish something that has never been done before by a telepath anywhere. Being a West Texas boy and life-long fan of Buddy Holly, he goes for the classic early rock song “That’ll be the Day.”

Only I wasn’t all that familiar with the lyrics to the song. They go “that’ll be the day … plonk plonk plonk … that I die.” I think that “that’ll be the day that I die” is an old expression roughly equivalent to “when pigs fly” but it is a little odd given our collective desire to never think about dying. The song came out in late 1957, and the day that Buddy Holly died was February 3, 1959.

My character Maurice, in his late eighties, probably thinks about death more than I do and I like to think, after the fact, that the fictional Maurice likes this song even more for its disturbing reminder of mortality. Being old, or at least being old well, takes courage and Maurice has an abundance of that. Please enjoy the short excerpt below to see what he is attempting.

That is how one lovely evening in mid-April Maurice found himself settling on to his couch to try something that had never been attempted. Teddie’s mother Lola was with him to make sure that he remained physically well, but she had sworn to remain mentally removed.

Maurice took a long swig of the sweet iced tea that he loved before he settled back and closed his eyes. Lola offered to put on some music for him while he relaxed and waited for the group in India to be ready. He was a West Texas boy through and through and still didn’t think that most country music held a candle to his favorite musician, Buddy Holly. Certainly not the modern stuff. He smiled as Buddy’s 1958 hit “That’ll be the Day” filled his living room and his mind.

Well, this would be the day that he would ride along in a young girl’s mind as she left her own body behind in the Himalayan dawn. He would join her as she danced into the air to travel through what Olumiji called the abode of light. In this world of waves, she could, incredible as it sounded to Maurice, find a friend a thousand miles away. Then both she and Maurice would desperately look for clues to the friend’s exact location, proving that one never knew what a day would bring.

I was so happy to find to find this wonderful recording of Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing “That’ll be the Day” live on the Ed Sullivan show on December 1, 1957. Go ahead, take a sixty year walk back into time and enjoy!

You can also listen to and purchase this classic at Amazon.

(If you enjoy reading about how the favorite songs of characters in a book can enhance a story, check out my post on greed and the Metric hit “Gold, Guns, Girls” at Never Enough on my blog for the novel d4.)

How does courage look?

From SOAR, a leadership development course

From SOAR, a leadership development course

Each of my five novels centers around a virtue or an ideal that I hold dear. Peace, joy, and hope weave their way through x0, y1 and z2 respectively, and every so often on my blog for each novel I go searching for the best images or best songs to represent this theme.

From a post called “Courage” at the blog Ramana’s Musings

Bravery, as found in humans of all sizes, ages and genders is at the core of my novel c3. But for some reason, I’ve left courage alone. Why? I suppose I thought of it as less easily captured by a simple image, or that I thought I would only find the expected photos of warriors. Today I tested this theory, and was surprised by the wealth of poignant images that capture the feeling of courage without saying a word.

From Bplans, a site for business planning

From Bplans, a site for business planning

I’m posting my six favorites here. I’ve grabbed them off the web. This is something I prefer not to do, so to mitigate this as best I can, I’ve set it up so that clicking on the image itself will take you back to my original source, and I attribute that source in the caption. If you like what you see, please go there and show them some love.

From "The Science Of Conquering Your Fears" at the Huffington Post

From “The Science Of Conquering Your Fears” at the Huffington Post

The images did tend to fall into a few categories. Small cats and dogs standing up to or seeing themselves as lions and wolves were popular. Mountain climbers were well represented, as were people jumping off things, often into the water. Many images didn’t make much sense without the words they came with, and I eliminated those for now.  “Best posters about courage” will have to be a category for another day.

From Dreamstime, a royalty free stock photo service

From Dreamstime, a royalty free stock photo service

I was also surprised by the sources. I used images from a site selling business software, another selling leadership courses, a site for stock photos and a newspaper article. You also see photos here from two other personal blogs, both of which look quite interesting. I’ll have to follow them both. Neither listed an orignal source, at least that I could find, or I would have attributed that too.

From the blog

From a post called “Courage” on the blog Velinda Peyton

Because my theme is more about courage shown in every day life and in unexpected places, I did avoid the pictures of  firefighters and of men and women in uniform. This was in spite of the fact that I agree that these people often show amazing bravery, and I have a great deal of respect for what they do. Only one such image tugged on my heartstrings until I could not resist, but it wasn’t the military man who swayed me. It was the little boy, doing his best to stay strong. That’s courage.